Several members of congress say their government computers have been hacked by sources working out of China, The Associated Press reports.
Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., says data was removed from office computers used by staffers working on human rights issues. According to Wolf, the hacking began in August 2006. The compromised computers reportedly contained information about political dissidents from around the world.
In addition, Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., also say data was removed from their Capitol Hill computers last week. Wolf, a longtime critic of the Chinese government's human rights record, says there are more.
“I’m not at liberty to say who they are, but there are other members,” says Wolf, the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations subcommittee.
"I think this is very bad because you have the Chinese compromising and gaining access to computers of any number of members of the House and a major committee of the House," Wolf says. "We don't know how many others."
The congressman suggests the problem probably goes further.
"If it's been done in the House, don't you think that they're doing the same thing in the Senate?" he asks.
Smith, a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says two of his computers also were attacked, one in December 2006 and another in March 2007, and that the attacks were "very much an orchestrated effort."
Smith initially thought his computers had a glitch or a virus of some kind but after the second time his computers crashed, he knew something was wrong.
Kirk suspects other committees may have been attacked as well.
“I would suspect that the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Intelligence, (and) Appropriations committees would all be top targets,” Kirk says.
Separately, U.S. authorities are investigating whether Chinese officials secretly copied the contents of a government laptop computer during a visit to China by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and used the information to try to hack into Commerce Department computers.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing denies the accusations regarding Gutierrez's laptop and the alleged effort to hack government computers.
“There probably are members serving in Congress whose computers have been compromised and they may not even know it,” Wolf says. He would like hearings in both the House and Senate on the matter.
Wolf plans to introduce a resolution that he says will help ensure protection for all House computers and information systems. The resolution calls for the chief administrative officer and sergeant at arms of the House – in consultation with the FBI – to alert House members and their staffs to the danger of electronic attacks. He also wants lawmakers to be fully briefed on ways to safeguard official records from electronic security breaches.
The Bush administration has been increasingly reluctant publicly to discuss or acknowledge cyber attacks, especially ones traced to China.
However, Pentagon officials last month acknowledged at a closed House Intelligence committee meeting that its vast computer network is scanned or attacked by outsiders more than 300 million times each day, according to The Associated Press.
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